Supporters say the bill – which did not require anyone to actually get the vaccine – had been a victim of a campaign by conservative groups who are squeamish about the nature of HPV, a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to several types of cancer.
“I think there was a right wing backlash at the last minute,” said Rep. Ed Clere, R-New Albany, a co-author of the legislation, just minutes after the vote Tuesday. “It was very disheartening to see the sort of panic that we saw today. Folks were running away from this as fast as they could.”
But opponents said the bill was unnecessary and could lead the Indiana State Department of Health to try to force parents to have their children vaccinated, even if they don’t think it’s appropriate.
“What we’re talking about here is a real policy shift to push parents to do that,” said Rep. Martin Carbaugh, R-Fort Wayne. “I understand it’s still a choice. But what concerns me is when we say to parents: It’s your choice, but hey, do it, hey do it, hey do it.”
The bill’s defeat on a 44-51 vote, came the same day that a legislative assistant for Gov. Mike Pence told Clere the governor also had concerns about the bill. Clere said that was a surprise given that the House Public Health Committee approved the bill unanimously last month and no one from the Pence administration testified against it.
“That was very disappointing because the process was a completely open process,” Clere said. “The administration was present, as I recall, when the bill was heard, when the bill was amended and voted.”
But the governor’s press secretary, Kara Brooks, said Pence heard from lawmakers who were concerned about the bill.
They said “that the language was unnecessary because schools already notify parents of the risks of HPV as well as the availability of the HPV vaccine,” Brooks said. “The governor also heard from other stakeholders who had concerns that the passing of the bill could lead to a new vaccination mandate.”
Indiana ranks 40th nationwide in the number of girls ages 13 to 15 years old who have received the vaccine, which stops the HPV virus and significantly reduces the risk that women will develop cervical cancer later in life. HPV can also lead to throat, anal and other forms of cancer and boys can also receive the vaccine.
The bill would have required the State Department of Health to develop a plan and outreach efforts to increase the state’s HPV vaccination rate to 80 percent in four years.
Currently, about 23 percent of girls in the age group have received all three doses of the vaccine, according to the National Immunization Survey for Teens. To reach the goal, an additional 136,800 students would have to be vaccinated, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
The bill’s author, Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, said she knows that 80 percent is a lofty goal. But she said the State Department of Health has helped make Indiana one of the nation’s leaders in the rates of other childhood vaccines and she’s confident it could do the same for HPV.
“The HPV vaccine is the best tool we have in the fight against any cancer to date,” Errington said. “The policy in this bill is a good step toward protecting both men and women from HPV-related cancers.”
The bill would have also required the state health department to make an annual report about the vaccination program and required schools to provide information about the vaccine to boys in sixth grade. Currently, state law only requires the information for girls.
“This is a bill to try to help grow information for the masses to eliminate a sector of cancer,” said Rep. Sharon Negele, R-Attica. “How could we not think this is a smart move?”
But Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said the State Department of Health could boost their outreach to parents without a change in state law.
“There is a proper role for government,” he said. “We have to weigh what that proper role is.”
On Wednesday, House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said the bill generated a lot questions and comes as there is a national debate about the safety of vaccinations. And he said it failed at a time when many controversial bills fail – on a deadline day when lawmakers are tired.
“Close bill. tough call,” he said. “It’s one of those bills that if it came up again today, it might have a different result.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.
Correction: The final quote in this story has been corrected to include the word “again.” It now correctly reads: “Close bill. tough call,” he said. “It’s one of those bills that if it came up again today, it might have a different result.” You can see all our corrections at http://thestatehousefile.com/info/corrections/.